On Sunday 17th May 2015, I witnessed some of the most violent and painfully blatant acts of Apartheid since my time in Palestine. I went to Al Quds for the annual ´Jerusalem Day´, to document the racist chants, commonly known to occur. ‘Jerusalem Day’, or ‘Yom Yerushalayim’ is a zionist celebration of the 6 day war in ’67, when Israel claims to have reuinited Jerusalem. Having ethnically cleansed West Jerusalem in 1948, Israel has occupied East Jerusalem since ’67, which had previously been under Jordanian control. The day consists of thousands of hard line Israelis, many of them young men, marching with flags through the muslim quarter of the old city, chanting racist and abusive slogans such as ‘Death to the Arabs’, and forcing shops to close their doors for the day.
Naively, I expected a relatively uneventful day, videoing marchers as they passed through the street. In reality, the day consisted of an abusive demonstration of the Zionist apartheid state and the ethnic cleansing upon which it is founded.
We arrived at Damascus gate just after 2pm to a crowd of young Israelis waving Israeli flags and, closely watched by soldiers, a small group of Palestinians and internationals waving Palestinian flags. All seemed tense. Throughout the city were swarms of zionists, dancing, chanting and celebrating their deemed ‘ownership’ of this city. Their loud chants through the Old City and choice to gather at Damascus Gate (The entrance to the muslim quarter), was a nod towards the provocative nature that this day would inevitably take.
Over the course of an hour, I witnessed a number of arrests. Although all separate to each other, they all had a common thread; they were all arrests of Palestinian men, and all included acts of violence shocking even within the context of the abusive occupation. I saw the first of these arrests only once the man’s head was locked in the arms of two soldiers. I burrowed under the arms of the soldiers and pulled the man away, a group of us successfully dearresting him. As he ran, the soldiers grabbed him again, holding his arms behind his back and squeezing at his chest. The man collapsed. His body fell to the ground between the soldiers, and as people rushed forward to perform CPR, the soldiers pushed them back, not allowing them to reach him. Eventually the man was carried away to hospital. We heard no news as to how he was later in the day.
Pushed against some close by metal railings, another man was grabbed by around 6 soldiers and thrown to the ground, before being stamped on and kicked as he lay there handcuffed. Just below the same railings, an Israeli soldier throttled another Palestinian man. Whilst his two hands were round the mans neck, other soldiers swarmed in and pushed him to the ground, hitting him in the face. He too was taken off by paramedics. An older man who looked in his sixties, whose arrest I didn’t see, was carried by his four limbs through the crowd by police.
These arrests were all at the entrance to Damascus Gate, watched over by a group of Zionists who were left to stay in the area. The agenda of the police and military at the scene, was to clear the area and road leading to it of any Palestinians. All Palestinians were moved to a side street, by police on horses charging through the crowds. Palestinians were pushed shoved and pulled away from the gate, many of whom had shopping bags and were with their children.
One elderly man passing through was thrown forwards onto his face by two soldiers. I next saw him as his bloody mouth was tended to by paramedics. Another was grabbed by a number of soldiers, and thrown with such force onto his back, he traveled a meter or so passed me before landing. A Palestinian man who attempted to stop a young zionist from pulling a scarf from a Palestinian woman, was pushed down the steps by two soldiers, as the zionist boy and his friends watched on. The woman, reclaimed her scarf and sat on the spot holding a Palestinian scarf in one hand, gesturing the peace sign with the other.
At around 7pm, what looked like tens of thousands of Zionists marched to Damascus Gate and on through the muslim quarter of the Old City. Largely consisting of young men, they chanted in Hebrew, directed at any Palestinian watching from the side. An older man next to me held a Palestinian flag, as the Zionists threw broken sticks from their flags at him. Later, standing among a small group of press at the side of the square, I found myself on the receiving end of sticks, as the crowd took any opportunity to attack onlookers. Press were hit with sticks, and dragged by police away from the gate. One police officer rugby tackled me from behind, as sticks were thrown from overhead. The crowd hurled abuse, as the soldiers watched on, many laughing along to the chants. As a Palestinian man nearby shouted back to the crowd, he was abruptly arrested and pulled away by soldiers.
The scenes witnessed at Damascus Gate on Sunday were not however the full extent of the day. A family we later visited whose house has just been demolished in East Jerusalem, had their area surrounded by Israeli flags, with people chanting ‘Death to the Arabs’ outside their window. Their 8 children, who were too afraid to leave the house, are daily witnesses to hatred inflicted towards themselves and their families.
Jerusalem Day to me was Zionism personified; the racist apartheid state that Israel is unashamed of. There were violent attacks on Palestinians by soldiers, police, and Zionist marchers alike. The soldiers and police supported Zionist youth as they hurled verbal abuse at passers by. Palestinian shops were forced to close as Zionists banged on their front shutters. Palestinians were made to move from the Muslim quarter to watch from afar as Zionists chanted hatred towards them – inciting ethnic cleansing and death to the Arabs.
This day was not one of watching on the sidelines as a group marched through the street – this day was a new awakening for me as to the systematic violence the Israeli state relies on. The city was turned into a playground for the new generation of right wing Zionists, as they were taught the abuse that’s accepted against all those not waving the same flag.